Higher Education is stagnating

The vast Ponzi scheme that is the ANC-run economy is running out of money. The ANC bottom-feeders who rely on patronage for their well-being are getting anxious. More looting needs to be found to appease them.
Thus, Nuclear Energy must take priority, even if it means bankrupting us all. For only through a huge new scheme like this, can enough be found to mollify those who depend on the “Politics of the Belly”.
Other budget items of unquestionable social good are neglected if they cannot be plundered. Higher Education is one of these. And so, as a sector, it is stagnating.
We might be forgiven for thinking that things are going much better in Higher Education.
Measured against our low standards for stability, “only” a handful of reports of rioting and protests have emerged in the past few months. Registration seems to have gone relatively smoothly, and R1.2 billion in additional funding has been pumped into NSFAS this year with more to come.
But this all hides a darker reality. The public is generally unaware that the fundamentals in this sector remain shaky, if not downright crumbling.
Students are appeased for now, but deep structural weaknesses remain.
The institutional weaknesses resulting from financial neglect will take decades to fix. And new money is needed for this. Instead of new money, the current R5 billion Higher Education boost has mainly been taken from within Higher Education via the Skills Levy – without any guarantees that the skills that the Levy was designed to produce would be forthcoming.
Not only that: an increase in NSFAS funding does not represent a real change in income for Universities and Colleges themselves.
Putting money into NSFAS assists students, of course; but the most NSFAS funding can do for Universities and Colleges themselves is to reduce what is owed to them by students. This is important, but it does not address the fundamentals of the system.
The real indicator of Higher Education financial health is the level of subsidy. Which is a disaster.
University subsidies are far below what is required and will continue to increase at way below the required rate of 8 to 10 percent, putting severe pressure on students, universities and academic staff.
This is the hidden truth of University funding.
On the College side: the R7.4 billion allocated to Colleges (54% of what they actually cost to run) is pitiful.
As a result, the savings and investments of institutions – where they have them – have been reduced, and in some cases completely decimated, over the past two years, to pay for the costs of the demands made upon them.
Several Universities are experiencing severe financial stress. Rescue funding might be needed for some.
So serious are the challenges that the department has reduced its growth targets for the next three years.
One-third of our 900 000 university students – some 300 000 – attend UNISA. But UNISA is now creaking at the seams, plagued by inefficiency, and has had to reduce its student numbers, thus slowing the department’s growth ambitions for Universities.
The Universities are stagnating.
But this is nothing compared to Colleges – planned growth by 2020 is down from R1.2 million to R700 000.
Half a million students will not be offered a College place as planned.
Our TVET Colleges are anyway outdated and stale and students are not flocking to attend them. Built in another era, they flounder in the modern economy, and struggle to find staff with the requisite experience, or students with the requisite school subjects.
The Colleges are stagnating.
The third arm of the department, the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA), are meant to provide us with another route to skills acquisition, and the R13.6 billion they control should go a lot further than it does. But many of the SETAS remain shaky rent-seeking institutions.
The Minister has abandoned all of his plans to restructure the sector until 2020 and nobody knows what will happen then.
The SETAs are stagnating.
In all three sectors of his department Minister Nzimande is managing a holding operation. Perhaps he is looking forward to 2019 when he retires after the ANC loses the election.
So immense are the needs, both educational and financial, of this sector that I suspect he has given up trying to find ways of meeting them. The bold ambitions of the Post-School Education White Paper, are one by one being shelved.
In fact, of course, in a rapidly changing world, stagnation means decay. History rolls on, and Higher Education stays still.
The Commission of Enquiry into Fee Free Higher Education is due to report in a matter of weeks, and its findings are very likely to be controversial.
Fee decisions for 2018 are going to be considered in the middle of this year. Underfunded Universities and Colleges will have no choice but to increase fees by significant amounts. We all know what that means.
The society is already in a state of generalised anger and upheaval. The President is effectively in hiding from his own people. None of this augurs well for the remainder of this year in both Universities and Colleges.
As is the case in our cities, towns and villages, discontent in our Universities and Colleges will probably once again spill over into damaging protests, led by extremely dissatisfied and highly politicised students and possibly staff.
For this ongoing tragedy, we have only the government to blame.
But the Nuclear Deal remains the number one priority for the Bernie Madoff of South Africa – our chief Ponzi scheme owner, President Jacob Zuma. Shame on him.
The DA, by contrast, is committed to a flourishing Higher Education sector, to an end to waste and neglect and to ensuring that our youth are provided with the skills and knowledge to make a real contribution to a growing economy.